Rafael Arutyunyan: If a person is a fool, there is no difference whether he is a kid or adult.
Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s interview with Rafael Arutyunyan at the World Championships 2019.
by rsport.ria.ru dd. 25th Match, 2019.
Is it true that Nathan was going to come to you on vacation to be able to spend a week of training under your guidance but you refused?
– Yes, everything really happened that way. Then Chen’s friend told me in private that Nathan could not recover for a long time after our conversation, he really felt hurt. But then he realized that I was right.
– About the fact that if he had come to California, he would have left all of himself on the ice there. Put yourself in his place: a person trains most of the season on his own, receiving instructions on Skype, then comes to the coach, and …
And tries so hard, proudly demonstrating how good he is?
– Exactly. And I needed Nathan to keep it all inside before coming to Saitama. And when we met in Japan, he listened to me in training as never before. Caught my every word, followed all my instructions. At one of the trainings, I forbade him to jump, and he spent the entire session just skating. Can you imagine that? Chen, who didn’t make a single jump. Perhaps, I won’t say why it was necessary, let it remain my coaching secret.
I had such an experience when the coach also forbade me to perform jumps on a warm-up before a important competitions. Later she explained that in her opinion I was too close to the peak of a competitive shape, and it was necessary to “slow down” the process somehow in order not to spend the energy ahead of time.
– So you found the right answer yourself. Well, during the trainings in Japan, we made some corrections in the short and free programs, refreshed some techniques.
Turns out that Chen’s departure from California to Yale and his independent training there played an extremely positive role?
– No. The athlete keep afloat or he can progress. What you see now in Nathan’s skating, it’s exactly keeping afloat. He continues to do what he has been taught long ago, that’s all.
I see you’re a cool fish. Your skater beats the world record, beating the two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu with a huge margin, and you call this “keeping afloat”?
– It doesn’t matter whom he beat and on how much points. Many athletes have improved very much this season. I think that Nathan and I aslo could have improved, but this did not happen. But he has become more educated and psychologically mature through study. At university, Chen is studying statistics, when we met, he showed me some of his best practices and said: “Coach, now I understand why you forced me to do elements a certain number of times.” At the Institute of Physical Education we studied anatomy and physiology, and the basics of training, and mathematical statistics, by the way. In America, the guys are not too educated in this regard. Therefore, I was happy that Chen began to talk differently with me, began to understand some things differently.
So is it easier to work with a mature athlete?
– With the educated one – yes. If a person is a fool, there is no difference whether he is a kid or adult.
At the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Chen did six quadruple jumps in a free program. In Saitama – four, so I remembered your words that you need to be extremely rational approaching your performance. Where is the border of this rationality? And should we continue to pursue the number of ultra-с elements when the mistakes cost so much according to the new rules?
– I think that you shouldn’t think about the rules, but do what you consider necessary. Rules are made to be broken. If you don’t break them, then you will be like everyone else. Why should I teach my athlete to be like everyone else? In addition, the rules are written by people who do not always understand the intricacies of our business. Nathan and I were criticized for quite a long time, for example, that in a free program we have jumps and no transitions. So I asked a counter-question. I asked: “Do you want Chen to perform all his quad cleanly and wink to the judges at the same time?” Well, yes, we almost did it in the short program, but there you can afford it, because the program is short and with the jumps which Nathan does with a very high degree of reliability.
This didn’t stop him from failing the short program in Pyeongchang.
– Uh, no, here you are wrong. In Pyeongchang Nathan jumped lutz and flip, and this, I would say, mutually exclusive things. Because the combination of these jumps greatly changes the program. It’s easier in a free program, there is more time. It’s a disaster for any athlete to put lutz and flip into a short program. And you certainly won’t dance doing that.
Is it even necessary to strive to achieve maximum complexity?
– I would answer this way: it became extremely dangerous to take risks in the current system of rules. But those who don’t take risks, don’t drink champagne.
I remember with what reverence you treated Michelle Kwan, when she came to your group. You looked at her like at celestial being. Now the whole world looks at Yuzuru Hanyu like that. Didn’t it put pressure on you as a coach? Didn’t you have a feeling that this is impossible to beat him no matter what?
– Actually I’m a big fan of Hanyu. I even have his autograph, which I took as a fan. It was at some competitions where Nathan won for the first time. Yuzuru is certainly very charismatic, but I haven’t and have never had a feeling that he cannot be beaten. By the way there was an interesting situation in Saitama, when after Hanyu’s free program and before Chen the ice was covered with toys and wasn’t cleaned for a long time.
Does it really strongly affect the one who skates next?
– You just need to be ready for this. But it’s not that. At some point I glanced at Nathan, who was warming up in the center of the ice, and saw that he was smiling at me with his eyes very eloquently. I immediately understood what he was thinking about. Three times at different competitions we had to skate right after Hanyu, and Nathan beat him all three times. In Saitama, I also understood that we had more qualitative elements than Hanyu. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised by the final result.
Has Chen’s plans about studying changed?
– I offered him to take a sabbatical, starting in December, but I do not think it will be easy to solve it with the university. If we manage to take such a vacation, there is hope that Nathan will progress. If he doesn’t than everything can be much more complicated. In the summer he will come to me for three months, but you can’t go far only due to one summer preparation. If we start work next May, after the school year ends, there is too little time left to prepare for the Olympics.
It seems to me that Chen’s current level allows him to hold on for a long time.
– I don’t agree. I would like to see him performing completely different programs. Different in execution of elements, in composition. Now, what’s cool in it? Jumped-land, jumped again – landed again. Well, yes, he jumped cool. But it will become boring to watch such skating.
How did the scandal with your students Mariah Bell and Eunsoo Lim?
– It ended with nothing. I didn’t like that adults interfere into this situation. In general, I don’t like it when adults, whether parents or anyone else, try to stir a child’s mind. I think everyone should be responsible for what he does, and understand that children need to be brought up, not provoked. Of course, there is always a certain amount of tension in training when those who compete with each other skate together. But the coach should always be the boss at the rink. If the stars don’t listen to him, this is a colossal problem to be solved. In my rink, I’m constantly dealing with certain situations.
Do you want to say that conflicts between athletes in training are not uncommon?
– You see, there are a number of unwritten rules in figure skating. A person who skates the program is equal to an ambulance, a fire engine or a police car which drives with a flashing lights. Such a car can crush everything on its path and no one has the right to condemn it. The second of such unwritten rules says: if the athlete enters the jump, he can not be stopped. This means that the rest, those who at this moment do steps or spins, must get off the road and allow the person to jump. I teach my athletes this from the very beginning, as soon as I start working with them. But a skater and his coach, for example, comes from somewhere in Taiwan, and both of them don’t know anything about these unwritten rules. A person can stop in the middle of the rink, summon an athlete and start giving him some explanations. In such cases, I usually ask: “Do you also stop in the middle of highway to talk with someone? No? Why? Do you afraid to get hit? Well, isn’t it also better here to go back to the boards and talk to the athlete there? ”
For example, Michal Brezina, when he came to my group, also got under everyone’s feet for the first six months. And now he teaches others the right behavior. This doesn’t always goes smoothly, but the athletes are the least to blame – just no one taught them right behavior on the ice. By the way, have you ever paid attention that the trajectories of jump patterns are always adjusted to millimeters? So the athletes often get into their own traces. That’s how Yuzuru fell on loop during one of the training sessions in Saitama. Mao Asada fell like that at one of the World championships, got into her own trace. What I’m trying to say is that at the training session in Saitama, Mariah was also skating in her trajectory backwards, stretching her leg back. And Lim was on her way. And when the press started all this … Did you see how I stood at the board during the ladies’ competitions?
Yes, and to be honest I was amazed by your imperturbability.
– I just understood everything about my girls. That I shouldn’t expect any result from both of them. They were already blown away because of endless stirring up from a completely outsiders from both sides. Both. And the world championship is not some minor local competition.
Many times I heard in figure skating the phrase: “To win a training session”. Can you explain to me what does it mean? And whether just a viewer can get any serious information from the pre-competition practice session?
– I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Why are you laughing?
– Because the Eastern proverb fits best to all these trainings, which are held before the competition and are open to everyone, “Multiple repetitions of the word ‘halva’ do not make sweeter in one’s mouth”. Trying to perform some serious work on such training session, you can do the athlete only worse. He cannot learn anything there, if he hasn’t learned it before, correct any mistakes either. When a person is preparing for the competition, even advices should be very metered, otherwise he simply will not get them.
As for your phrase, I can tell you for sure that in my opinion Yuzuru won all the practices in Saitama. The only thing I said to Nathan: “Don’t follow it” – do not even think about doing the same. Many fall into this trap. That’s why I so skeptically watched how toys were removed from the ice after Hanyu’s performance. In Japan, it has already become a kind of psychological weapon that really affects some skaters. It takes a long time to wait until all presents are removed from the ice, and you have to change trajectories during skating. After all, children slow down at the boards, because of this a sufficiently large amount of snow is formed, which insignificantly but still narrows the arena. And this snow really hinders.
If a person is not ready for all this, he may react inadequately. I just warned the representatives of the ISU in advance that Nathan would need additional time to warm up due to the “rockfall”, which will certainly happen after Hanyu’s performance. As soon as the organizers promised me that there would be enough time, I immediately calmed down.
Did you have time to watch other competitions in Saitama?
– I never watch all the performances in a row – eyes are swimming. I like ice dance – I peep how they build programs, some steps, ideas. Generally I used to compare with my work everything that I see around. Even on the playground I see some things sometimes that I can use in work. But I try not to look at those who skate badly, not to read the Internet, because I realized that all the negative information will get into my head, stuck there.
Can you comment on Elizabet Tursynbaeva’s historical quad salchow?
– I don’t know what is there to comment. This girl has a very high level of relative power due to her physique. She is small, light and in the same weight for several years. This is a very important factor. It is clear that Tursynbaeva has it from nature, but if we are talking about the direction in which women’s skating should develop, then personally I don’t want to see it like that. So I think that it would be right to raise the age for girls to compete in seniors. Because only then we can expect that adult and highly professional athletes will appear in our sport, who will be ready to subordinate themselves completely to the regime, proper nutrition to achieve the physical shape that would allow to complicate the program without risk of serious injuries.Only when all these conditions are met, quadruple jumps in women’s skating will be interesting for me.
I heard that in California you have the best skating rink in the world.
– Yes, it opens in April. Huge as an airport – four ices under one roof, doors open on fingerprints, monitors everywhere. There, I have already been appointed as a head coach in top-level sports, I have my own office, I have five hours of daily ice. And there are two dreams that contradict each other. One of them is to close your rink from outsiders, as our coaches did in Soviet times, so that none of the competitors could see what I’m doing.
And the second dream?
– To open the door and invite everyone. Athletes, coaches. I believe that this option will outweigh, because now it is impossible to close from the world completely. No matter how many times you shouted that they cannot take videos at your skating rink, no matter how much you monitor violators, there is always someone who not just took video but also upload it on the Internet.
Related topics: Nathan Chen, Rafael Arutyunyan
This is such a wonderful, insightful interview. Thank you for sharing!